For a couple of years now we have driven past what we thought was an abandoned fair ground on the dusty windswept Emirates Road in outer Dubai. After a little research I discovered that after dark in the winter this monstrosity actually comes to life to bring you a “seasonal cultural extravaganza”and “an amazing array of festivals, shopping and entertainment”, as Global Village – what more could you want!
So off we went this weekend on our journey of cultural discovery. As recommended by friends we arrived on opening time and the car park was already getting quite full, we were fully equipped with our fleet of pushchairs and off to tackle this monster of a tourist attraction.
Like everything in Dubai, it is built on a grand scale. You can visit stalls covering countries from Cambodia to Qatar, Thailand to Turkey (they claim to have over 70 countries represented). With such a huge variety of stalls to see, if you are only planning to come for a few hours before bedtime, make your way immediately to the centre stage area then make an assessment what you’d like to see and do – it’s pretty impossible in one short visit to see the lot.
Credit where it is due, there is certainly a huge amount of variety and entertainment to choose from. There is a load of shopping, and if you’re prepared to haggle, I’m sure bargains to be had. You can pretty much pick your cuisine and there is plenty of entertainment ranging from live stage shows to smaller stages with singers inside some of the pavilions.
At the end of the park is a giant fairground called Fantasy Island full of rides and bright flashing lights to satisfy all age groups. Be warned though, it can be a money pit. I wasn’t really sure what you got for your entry fee other than swept along with the crowd as once inside you pay for absolutely everything other than the stage shows. The rides particularly felt extortionate (perhaps compared to other theme parks where you just pay your entry and ride all day) – as an example, for the “Wheel of the World”alone they charged 40dhs per person, they wanted 200dhs for our family of five to do one round – that’s $54USD!
We did visit on a Friday which is a day off for most workers in the UAE so it was seriously busy and I think hampered a lot of enjoyment we otherwise could have had; constant fear of children running off or being grabbed. Then there’s the weavers, the dawdlers, the congregators and the generally absent-minded individuals that constantly get in your way to contend with. Had we chosen a week night it may not have been as bad, but I would strongly recommend getting there early to maximize what you can see before the crowds throng in after dark.
Was it really a cultural experience? In some pavilions more than others but I would question the authenticity of some of the items being sold (most of the product in “America” for example could easily be made in China). What was by far the greater cultural experience was seeing the people who were there. I’ve heard reported that there are well over 100 nationalities who call Dubai home and I’d bet pretty much every one of these were represented in some way.
Getting to Dubai Global Village
- Located on the E311 exit 37 (next to Arabian Ranches)
- Open daily from 4pm to 1am (2am Thursday-Friday during Dubai Shopping Festival) during the cooler months, this year’s season is scheduled to finish 11 April 2015
- General Admission entry is 15dhs for 3 years and over (2 and under free). Balloons 10/20dhs. Rides vary in price 10dhs – 80dhs each (yes you read correctly!)
Tips for families
- Worried you’ll lose your kids? They give you wrist bands for writing a phone number for lost children (I’m guessing it happens a lot) so bring a pen and if your child’s old enough to understand agree a meeting point
- Due to the amount of distance to cover, I would recommend push chairs even for the older ones, but it can get very crowded and difficult to maneuver in the crowd if you go on a busy night
- Get there early (ie opening time at 4pm) so you can at least soak some of it up before it’s too crowded, and park within a reasonable distance, aim for car park P3 or P6
- Monday’s are designated as a family day – going during the week might prove much less crowded and a better way to enjoy the experience
- There are balloon vendors everywhere; save yourself hours of moaning by just buying one straight away
- The toilets leave a lot to be desired, they are plentifully available but filthy, time to use your best creative toileting techniques
- Bring warm clothing, it’s deceptively chilly after dark during the cooler months of the year
Our Globetrotters Recommend?
I can best describe this as an experience. It satisfied our curiosity as to what’s behind those dusty, derelict-looking walls and it was on a far grander and diverse scale than I expected, but personally if I’m going to truly experience a country, have a meal and buy some souvenirs, I’d rather fly to the country in question to have a genuine rather than manufactured experience.
That being said, if regular overseas travel is not affordable or practical and you are living in the UAE, it might be a good way to give your kids a taste of what lies beyond our little expat bubble. You can try different foods, haggle for a bargain, listen to different music (and yes deal with pushy salesmen, people wanting to touch your kids blonde hair; whether you like it or loathe it all come under the part I would describe as a genuine experience).
Me personally, I value my personal space too much. Nice to have experienced, but nice to go home to my expat bubble.
Have you been to Global Village? Is there perhaps a hidden gem for youngsters that I am missing?